Ossett United manager Wayne Benn is hoping spectators will be allowed to watch friendlies at some stage of pre-season.
Non League clubs across the country are preparing to play pre-season fixtures from August 1st. To the disappointment of many, all matches will be played behind closed doors unless the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) change the rules.
Benn cites the financial aspect for clubs and the social factor for volunteers and supporters as the reason why he wants the Government to grant permission for spectators to attend friendlies.
“A lot of clubs pin their hopes on getting some good fixtures and getting some much-needed revenue in during pre-season,” Benn told Non League Yorkshire.
“If some clubs get the right pro club to come to them they can pretty much set themselves up for the season with one game. It is going to have an impact. You’ll see less teams playing pro clubs because there isn’t really any value in it without the fans.
“The social aspect is right. Supporters want to see the new signings. They have missed football and haven’t seen live action for five months and they’re as keen as anyone to come in and watch. It must be devastating for some (knowing that cannot attend friendlies), especially those whose main social activity is Non League Football.
“I know the FA has put a proposal together for the DCMS regarding letting fans in for friendlies. That’s still to be decided upon, as far as I know.
“It might not be sorted for the early friendlies as we have been given the go-ahead to play from August 1st and some teams are playing on that date and the days following. But I’m hoping there is a decision made on that and it is allowed, even if it is at a reduced capacity.
“You can’t tell me you can’t get a couple of hundred fans in your ground and you can’t socially-distance and have your facilities and bar set up in a way that is safe when we’re seeing thousands (of people) congregating (together) all over the place. I’m sure it can be done safely with minimal risk, if any risk.
“I’m hoping they do allow some people into the friendlies. It is massively important for clubs down the pyramid. I’m also hoping showers and changing facilities are not such an issue as they might seen to me. Away travel; we don’t have to worry about that until September, but it is something we would have to look at nearer the time.
“It is a nightmare for everyone, it is really. There are so many different rules for things and there’s different ways to interpret the information. It is a challenge for us all and it is something none of us have dealt with before so we’re be learning as we go.
“The priority has to be keeping everyone safe and I can only relate it to my club, but they are doing everyone they should be to make sure we are following guidelines.”
Benn is preparing for a September 12th start in the FA Cup, although he is well-aware it could be September 1st if Ossett are given an Extra Preliminary Round tie. Their first NPL Division One North West fixture is set to be on September 19th.
Some managers have expressed concern about the season ahead, with some suggesting there could be a fixture fiasco looming if local lockdowns are enforced and bad weather occurs.
Benn, who showed off his skills as a top quality golfer at Ossett’s fundraising golf day on Sunday day, is taking a more positive outlook.
“I’m reasonably confident that the season will finish,” he said.
“If they (the league) plan it right and we play every midweek early doors for the first six to eight weeks and they extend the season into May as I’m led to believe they are doing, I don’t see any reason why we can’t have a full season.
“I agree that one or two of the lesser cup competitions could probably be avoided for a year.
“We don’t know if there are going to be further lockdowns or second waves. The winter is going to bring in challenges with normal flu.
“If local lockdowns happen there is nothing we can do and it might mean a week or two with no fixtures. It will cause a little bit of chaos, but if they are smart and they scope the fixtures to build in delays, I believe there is time to finish the season.
“It is no different to the winter when you might not play for three or four weeks because of the weather. We might still get that scenario as well. We’re just going to have be flexible and roll with it.
“Who knows what’s around the corner? They (the government) have made big strides over the last six to eight weeks. In another eight weeks, social-distancing might not be required for instance.
“I don’t think we need to worry about what might happen in three or four months down the line. The leagues have got a big part to play in it in terms of structuring it right.”
If the season is curtailed before its scheduled finish due to outside factors, Benn believes Ossett will be in a sound financial position and admits clubs have to be careful putting players on contract.
“Clubs who have a lot of contracted players are going to find themselves in trouble, I feel (if the season ends early),” he said.
“I can only talk about my club, but we will be avoiding putting a lot of players on contract for that reason (the season ending early). It is just a burden that you have to pay when you have no income.
“If clubs have a huge amount of their squad on contract, that is going to cause them a big problem if we encounter what we’ve going through at the minute. You have to be smart.
“If you have a team of no contracted players you’re not as badly affected because if the season is interrupted or stopped, you’re not obliged to pay the players. The players sign for you knowing that.
“I’m still seeing people throwing money around like confetti and putting guys on contract. If they can afford to do that, fair play. I’m not here to criticise how other people work and I can only relate it to how my club works.
“I’d like to think if the worse does happen then we won’t be as badly-affected as some others. If you put a business head on it, now is the time to build up (cash) reserves.
“We work to a budget we can afford and one we’re comfortable with. The club is doing bits and pieces to raise some funds. We’ve not gone down the GoFundMe route, but that doesn’t mean the clubs who have are wrong.
“What’s galling to see is clubs not using them for reasons they claimed and money has gone towards player budgets. In some instances, clubs were probably close to going out of business if they didn’t do something so fair play to them for being pro-active and fair play to the fans for putting their hands in their pockets.
“I’m fortunate that I have good people running my football club and we won’t spend money we haven’t got and we won’t put ourselves in a position where we have a burden to fulfil with no income coming into the place if the season was interrupted.”
To cope with a hectic league schedule, Benn is assembling a big squad and he expects other clubs to do the same.
“I think you have to now (have a big squad),” he said.
“If God forbid, one or two of your players catch the virus, that’s going to bring another challenge.
“It will come down to finance, but I think most clubs will want to carry a bigger squad than they normally would have done.
“We needed a massively bigger squad than last season and we’ll be operating on a squad size of around 20 which I suppose if everyone is available creates a bit of a problem.
“We wanted to make sure we had more options this season as a lack of options and lack of strength in depth was one of our problems last season. We needed to address that regardless.
“We’re also reintroducing our under 23s so we have a structure underneath the first team to pull players from if they deemed good enough and performing well for the relevant.
“That gives us a resource to pull players from rather than us having to constantly go outside of the Football Club.”
So far Ossett have made an array of new signings, including Harry Viggars, Nash Connolly, George Green, Cameron Clark Jack Cowgill, Nathan Keightley and a few more.
Benn and assistant Andy Hayward are also casting their eyes over several trialists.
“The first couple of (pre-season) games will about looking at our trialists and trying to make decisions on them,” he said.
“They are training well and they are interesting us, but you are never quite sure and don’t forget that we only really been able to train in groups of six. That limits the work you can on the training field and means you can only see a certain amount.
“They’ve not looked out of place though. They look fit, hungry, but we will wait until the friendlies to make a final decision. The trialists have been informed of that and they’ve said they understand that.”
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NLY Community Sport, run by James Grayson and Connor Rollinson, has always had combatting social isolation at the top of our objectives when running our Disability Football teams so when the green light to return is given, our work will play an important role in reintroducing our players, who have disabilities and learning difficulties, back into society.
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